It’s Friday 12th September. Usually, I would have just finished my second week back at work teaching at an east London secondary school after a five-week summer holiday. New exercise books would have been distributed and sullied with fresh graffiti. The students’ (and teachers’) initial enthusiasm at the start of a new year would be beginning to wane. And, if it hadn’t happened already, I would be starting to regularly raise my voice in anger at the students’ general indifference as their first coursework deadlines start to loom. Continue reading
We’re two weeks into our long-awaited round-the-world trip and already in the midst of a haze of activity. So far, we’ve had a day at Kiwanis (Vanuatu’s annual horse-racing event), swum beneath Mele Cascades waterfall, kayaked to Erakor Island, dived for the first time ever and seen the wreck of the SS Coolidge.
Every day has brought a new experience, the most demanding of which has been the Millennium Cave Tour, a trek through Vanuatu’s biggest cave located on the outskirts of Luganville.
So here we are: firmly in the midst of our trip of a lifetime. It’s been exactly one month since we left London – one amazing month during which we swam beneath waterfalls, kayaked to desert islands, went diving for the first time, explored the depths of Millennium Cave and stared into the crater of an active volcano.
It’s turned out to be far better and easier than I had predicted. Of course, there have been some backpacker problems I’ve struggled with – some expected and others not. Continue reading
“What do you miss about the UK?” I asked my father a few months after he and my mother had moved to France, back in 2010. He pondered for a moment.
“I’m not sure I necessarily miss the UK, but there are certain things I know I’m missing out on,” he replied. “I feel bad that I’m not going to be voting. Like I’m letting someone down…” Continue reading
“Life’s too short for bad books,” a friend once told me. We had been swapping recommendations for a while and I was aghast that he had given up on The Kite Runner. “Keep at it,” I urged. “You’ll love it.”
He shrugged. “If I’m not enjoying a book within the first two chapters, that’s it.” He mimed throwing it away.
“I wish I could be more like you,” I had said. And I meant it. You see, I’m the type of person that will doggedly pursue a book or a task or a project that I’m not enjoying only so that I can finish it. Reading A Suitable Boy was the only thing entirely in my control that I ever gave up on – and it bugs me even today. Continue reading
After a week of comfortable self-catering in Efate, followed by a fairly luxurious week on Aore Island, Santo, it was time to get back to basics, cast off the First World, and experience a bit of real Ni-Van culture. We knew that our adventure would really begin here: on Tanna Island in Vanuatu, a 40-minute flight south east of Port Vila on an island just 40 kilometres long and 25 kilometres wide. We stayed on the east side of the island at Port Resolution Yacht Club, which sits above a beautiful calm bay. The glow of the island’s active volcano, Mt Yasur, can be seen from miles around and acts as a beacon to travellers and locals alike. We spent five nights at Port Resolution and we loved it – here’s why. Continue reading
Two years ago, I came across The National Trust’s charming ’50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾’ campaign, designed to get more kids out and about. I read through the list (below) and, to my dismay, realised that I had completed less than half the list. As I said at the time, growing up in London sucks.
I was reminded of the list a few days ago halfway up a tree on Tanna Island’s Little Beach. A mere two weeks on the road and I was more in touch with nature than in the two years since I first read the list. Evidently, living in London also sucks. Continue reading
Aore Island lies 2.6 kilometres off Espiritu Santo’s coast, opposite the island’s capital, Luganville. It is easily accessed by a short ferry ride across the Segond Channel. We’ve spent a week at Aore Island Resort, hosted by Anne, the warm and friendly Australian owner who bought the resort around 10 years ago. The resort has 18 cosy but spacious bungalows set amid neat, tidy and well-kept gardens. The resort backs onto a charming coconut palm plantation and is surrounded by local farms. Continue reading
I like to think of myself as a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but put me in water and all my bravado dissipates. As a child, I was not a strong swimmer. Fortnightly lessons for a year in primary school weren’t enough for me to find my fins. As an adult, I have improved marginally but I never stray far from the shore.
With this in mind, when Peter suggested booking our first dive, I agreed with hesitance. The idea put butterflies in my stomach – a rare feeling for someone who never gets nervous. As neither of us had dived before, we were warned that the deepest we could go was 12 metres. I looked 12 metres off into the distance – it would be deep enough for me. Continue reading
Usually on a Friday morning, I would be at my desk at 80 Strand looking over my calendar and thanking God I have only three meetings instead of six. And then there’s email – the neverending battle with wave after wave of email. But yesterday was no ordinary Friday morning. Instead of sitting at an office desk, I was lounging in a kayak in the Pacific Ocean heading over to explore a tiny island barefoot. Continue reading
Mele Cascades are dramatic and great fun. They’re no Niagara or Iguaçu, but then you can’t swim in either of those (well, maybe just the once).
Oh, the horror! Twenty-four hours in a tin can full of other people is no-one’s idea of fun, but when you’re heading to the other side of the world, it can’t really be avoided. Our flight(s) from London to Port Vila via Singapore and Brisbane meant a total transit time of 36 hours – 24 of which were in flight. By the time we reached our hotel, we were in a zombie-like state but still human. Here’s how we coped with our 24 hour flight. Continue reading
Well, this beats the A12. If I were at home, I would be drinking my morning coffee in our fifth-floor flat, watching and listening to the traffic hustle its way along the busy road and junction below. The trains would be rolling in and out of Newbury Park tube station taking thousands of commuters to work in busy and noisy central London. I’m not at home. In fact, I am a long way from home. Continue reading
Today is our last day in this blustery city we call London. It feels strange, particularly for me as it’s the only city in which I’ve lived. Peter has moved around – Norwich, Cambridge, Northampton – but for me London has always been home. It’s where I made my friends for life, where I graduated, where all my nieces and nephews were born, where my father passed away, where I fell in love, where everything I hold dear resides. Continue reading
As we approach our last journey on the awful/amazing London Underground, we publish a primer for the uninitiated…
Ah, so you’ve arrived in the City of London, the land of tea, crumpets and people who say sorry a lot. The land of Notting Hill and Love, Actually and bumbling gentlemen who blush when complimented. The city of Yeoman Warders and the Queen’s Guard, and quirky social rituals that are just so charmingly English. Continue reading
I was backpacking with a friend through China in 2008 (my first big trip out of Europe!) and was keen to see as much of the country as possible.
So, when we arrived in Guilin after a long flight, we decided against the bus journey to Yangshuo and opted instead to take a boat (really just a motorised raft) along the 83-kilometer section of the Lijiang or Li River as it’s also known.
It proved to be one of the best decisions of the trip. Despite taking four times as long as the 80-minute bus journey and costing more (as in three or four pounds more), gliding along the Li was a fine way to travel. Our pilot, so to speak, was an elderly man who spoke no English and, likewise, we spoke no Mandarin other than the basics. Continue reading
I believe it was Naomi Wolf who spoke of a ‘tax’ that women pay for being women. This tax is paid in the form of time: minutes and hours that turn into days and weeks spent applying eyeliner, blow drying hair, filling in brows, blotting lipstick, filing nails, snipping split ends, and the multitude of other things we do to maintain our looks. On a work day, it takes me an hour to get ready from morning shower to out-the-door. It takes Peter a maximum of 30 minutes – and that includes a morning coffee. Continue reading
My colleague picks up the two guidebooks strewn across my desk.
“Are you planning to take these with you?”
“Won’t they be too heavy?”
I shrug. “Peter will carry them.”
“You could just look it all up on TripAdvisor.”
“I prefer guidebooks.”
Her lips curl into a look that is half confusion and half disdain. “Okay,” she says in a tone that suggests it’s not okay at all.
Why climb? Because it’s there… and it can actually be done by most.
Kilimanjaro is the world’s highest freestanding mountain, meaning it is not attached to a mountain range. I trekked it in 2010 and it was inspirational to say the least.
It was part of a big trip for me to East Africa — and after an extensive safari throughout the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater, coupled with several days on the exotic and dreamy island of Zanzibar — Kilimanjaro could easily have been overshadowed. But it wasn’t.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was exhilarating, awe inspiring, breathtaking, incredible and one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I recommend it to anyone who has the time (and the energy). Continue reading
Here are ten travel essentials I never leave home without. From waterproofing to a friendly smile, these items are a must for every backpacker.
1. Waterproofing – stuff sacks and electronics
Trekking across Scotland is the best way to learn about waterproofing. In Scotland, it rains. You can have a good run and believe me I was having a good run but eventually, in Scotland, it rains. And after six days of glorious sunshine, on the final day of an eight-mile trek out of the Highlands, it started to rain. Really rain. We didn’t make it out the Highlands that day – the going was too slow and too miserable that by mid-afternoon we called it a day and set up our tents in the downpour.
My sleeping bag was soaked through. My camera, by some miracle had survived the drenching. It was a cold and damp night’s sleep that night. Before I travelled or trekked again, I bought some waterproof stuff sacks in a range of sizes for my sleeping bag, clothing and electronics, which have been invaluable. Continue reading